When we did our house extensions about 5 years ago, we didn’t really do much with the front yard. We always meant to come back to it someday, but never quite got around to it. We never bothered to plant much in the way of trees and shrubs either, since we didn’t want them to get in the way of whatever we ended up doing.
First we worked out what we wanted from our front yard:
- Level. We don’t have very much back yard (and what’s there is concreted), so the front yard is our grassy play area. The slope was terrible for the swings and trampoline!
- Some shade and privacy. Small- and medium-sized trees around the perimeter would be nice.
- Edibles. We wanted to incorporate some fruit trees and other edibles into the design, although Megan didn’t want it to look like a market garden.
- Containment. Our oldest, Grace (7), often tries to run across the road to her grandparents’ house. Having Down syndrome, she doesn’t really understand the dangers roads present! It would be nice to be able to sit out there without needing to be constantly vigilant. We also want to keep our kids and visiting toddlers from going too near the tops of the retaining walls.
- Aesthetic appeal. Of course, we want our yard to look nice from the street.
With all that in mind, we drew up some plans for a retaining wall and fence, allowing us to cut-and-fill to level the yard, and submitted them to Council. Despite checking our ideas were reasonably acceptable before lodging the application, the plans were rejected (by the same person who initially said they looked fine!). Apparently the proposed wall wasn’t in keeping with the rest of the street, despite just about everybody else having higher walls.
Oh well, such are the vagaries of local planning regulations. Instead of a retaining wall, the planning officer suggested we terrace the yard since that wouldn’t require approval. We would amend the development application to contain just the proposed fence.
So, on the 20th of December we called in a bobcat to level the yard! The lillypilly had to go – it had borers in it, and half of it had blown down in a storm (weakened by the borers). Sad, but it’ll soon be replaced by dozens of trees and shrubs.
I was allowed the Christmas off, and then Megan lined up 12 tons of turf mix to be delivered on the 29th, and 75 m2 of turf to be delivered on the 30th. We chose Sir Walter for the turf, since it is supposed to be drought resistant and does well in shade or full sun. It’s also nice and soft under foot. Oh, and before all that I had to start building the terraces so we could lay the turf right up to the edges.
I still had more work to do on the wall, though, and steadily got through that over the rest of the week.
We ended up with four terraces, each 600 mm deep. We’re planning to put some kind of fruiting shrubs and berries in the bottom two, then trees (avocado, white mulberry, fig, etc) in the third level, and more fruiting shrubs (blueberries and others) in the top level that can be picked by the kids from up on the grass.
Up the side along the driveway will probably go feijoas, guavas, peaches, nectarines, and others. Along the fence line we’ll plant citrus (lemon, plus early and late varieties of orange and mandarin). I’m hoping to fit in a few things like jerusalem artichokes, sweet potatoes, strawberries, etc in the beds underneath some of the trees.
For now, I’m preparing the garden beds. The soil is a bit of a mixed bag of clay, sand and little rocks. The terraces need another 200 mm or so of soil to fill them, so I’m adding lots of horse manure (free from the stables at Kembla Grange), mushroom compost and a layer of straw mulch on top.
The manure and compost will take some time to break down, so we’ll take our time planting out the terraces. I’m going to sow a mixed bird seed as a green manure crop (it contains millet, sorghum, corn, sunflower, barley and wheat) – this is a cheap way to get a lot of seed! Once the plants grow, but before they seed, I’ll dig the whole lot in. This is a good way to break up the soil and incorporate lots of organic matter.
I’m also going to try planting potatoes in one bed – the last lot of potatoes we grew turned a bed of stable sweepings into a beautiful rich soil full of worms. Hopefully they can do the same again.
If you have any suggestions to help prepare the beds, or advice on what else we could consider planting, please add a comment below!